Miriam Lord: As Taoiseach eggs him on, Mattie gets rasher

Picking a breakfast roll battle with healthy Micheál is silly even by Dáil standards

Says she: Do you want poached egg on that?

Says I: I do in me wholemeal roll.

Call it a hunch, but somehow we don’t think Micheál Martin was the inspiration for Pat Shortt’s Jumbo Breakfast Roll song. Not unless the first line originally went something like “Two egg whites, two strawberry, two banana, two apples – one green and one red.”

We know someone who used to be thrilled if they found themselves behind the Fianna Fáil leader on the lunchtime queue at the salad bar in the Oireachtas canteen. This was before Covid and the advent of individually portioned salads. They were delighted because Micheál – who is very careful about what he eats – wanted only the whites from the halved hardboiled eggs and would leave the tasty yolk behind.

Micheál eating a breakfast roll? No chance. It would be like drinking a bowl of tepid pork fat with a toenail in it

The Taoiseach's choice of breakfast fare was an unexpected item on Tuesday's Dáil menu, where Ivana Bacik's debut at Leaders' Questions for the Labour Party was somewhat eclipsed by Mattie McGrath taking a spirited stand on behalf of the endangered Irish rasher and getting into a row with Micheál over poached eggs.

The Rural Independent TD brought up the crisis in the pork sector as pig farmers protested outside Leinster House over rising production costs and poor meat prices. He said the industry needed a rescue package but it was a problem the Taoiseach probably wouldn't recognise "until you don't have any rashers for your breakfast roll".

Micheál eating a breakfast roll? No chance. It would be like drinking a bowl of tepid pork fat with a toenail in it.

"We should have the rasher with a poached egg," he remarked as Mattie resumed his seat and Richard Boyd Barrett prepared to ask why the Government appeared to be "stubbornly resistant" to having a debate on the calamitous war in Yemen. While RBB was putting his question, McGrath silently fumed.

As soon as he could, he jumped back in, complaining bitterly to the Leas Ceann Comhairle about the Taoiseach “making a joke of my request by saying he eats poached eggs”.

Micheál began to say that he had yet to answer his question, but Mattie was in no mood to give way. The pig industry might be wiped out if there was no government action and “this mockery, this mockery by the Taoiseach and poached eggs. He’ll be well poached when they get at him … or fried, even!”

So the Taoiseach, who might have been better off leaving well enough alone, explained he had been referring to rashers. “I actually said we should have the rasher with the poached egg or the poached egg with the rasher.”

“It’s not a laughing matter” quivered Michael Healy-Rae.

“I’m serious. I believe in a good rasher for breakfast,” deadpanned Micheál, omitting the words “in moderation” because he’s rarely seen eating them. Then he went into the Government’s response so far to the crisis in the pigmeat sector, which he says should be kept “intact and viable”.

This sudden Battle of the Breakfast Roll between the head of government and the leader of the Rural Independents was so daft, even by Dáil standards, we almost forgot about Ivana's big debut or Mary Lou McDonald repeating her call for VAT and carbon tax on home heating oil to be axed.

Unusual civil

In a heartwarming outbreak of civility, both the Taoiseach and the leader of Sinn Féin warmly congratulated Bacik on her recent election as leader of the Labour Party, while Mary Lou went one further by welcoming Micheál back to active service. “I’m glad to see you well after your brush with Covid.”

For her maiden outing, the Labour leader chose energy security in the wake of the war in Ukraine, and she also called for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador. She wouldn't be the first or only Irish politician to do so, but, as it soon turned out, her timing was fortuitous.

The Taoiseach focused most of his reply on the energy situation, skirting briefly around the issue of diplomatic expulsions with the usual noncommittal lines.

“On the diplomatic side we have also sought to work with others and will continue to do so,” he said. “We will keep all of those issues under review in respect of diplomatic sanctions or initiatives to illustrate the country’s dissatisfaction, to put it mildly, or outrage at the war.”

In her follow-up, Ivana returned to the question of unwelcome diplomats.

"Just as we have seen Ireland moving along with other nations to support Ukraine's application for accession to the EU, so too should we be moving with like-minded nations, even if we do not have full agreement across the EU, on more stringent diplomatic measures such as expulsions of diplomats," she said.

Finally, about half an hour later, during questions on promised legislation, the Taoiseach was able to let the cat out of the diplomatic bag

Micheál made no comment in his second reply, even though he knew something that Ivana, and the rest of the Dáil, did not. But he sat on his news, although he must have been bursting to reveal that the sanctions she requested were on the way.

But he put on his poker face and said nothing.

Finally, about half an hour later, during questions on promised legislation, the Taoiseach was able to let the cat out of the diplomatic bag.

Ambassador summoned

While the Labour leader was asking about sharpening our diplomatic response to the Ukraine crisis, the Russian ambassador, Yury Filatov, was getting a filleting in Iveagh House from Simon Coveney, because at that moment the Department of Foreign Affairs "had indeed summoned the Russian ambassador".

Naturally, explained Micheál “I was loath to override what would be normal diplomatic protocols.”

Whereupon he cited the 1961 Vienna Convention and said four senior Russian officials had been asked to sling their sickles “because their activities are not in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour”.

He got intelligence on Monday from "our national security team" about the Russian activities in Rathgar.

Fine Gael's Brendan Griffin must have been pleased to hear it.

Earlier this month he told the Dáil: “I hope that the glorified spy ring on the Orwell Road known as the Russian embassy, which I am sure is listening to what is being said this morning, as it is every day, will very soon get its marching orders out of this country, never to come back.”

They were listening, all right. This “groundless” decision “will not go unanswered”, was the embassy’s swift response.

Back in the Dáil, Ivana Bacik was most gratified.

“I just want to thank you for your response to my question earlier and I didn’t expect you to have such an immediate response in my first set of Leaders’ Questions.”

He didn’t. The decision was made on Monday.

Good woman, Ivana. Acting like a leader already.